In the year 2000, President Clinton signed into law the Electronic Signature in Global and National Commerce Act (the E-sign Act), which declares that an electronic signature “may not be denied legal effect, validity, or enforceability solely because it is in electronic form.” Since then, digital signatures have been regarded as binding on contracts, including agreements made between applicants for Social Security Disability benefits and their attorneys or representatives. Yet even today, some personnel in the Social Security Administration (SSA) have been hesitant to recognize the validity of anything other than a wet signature.
The insistence upon a wet signature can slow down the application process, causing unnecessary delays in hearings, or incomplete files due to outstanding medical records. Consider that when applying for Social Security Disability benefits, an applicant’s medical providers must be contacted to obtain evidence establishing a medical impairment. To acquire such information, SSA requires applicants to fill out a medical release form (SSA-827) authorizing disclosure of medical information and releasing the provider from liability. Although previously the SSA had required a wet signature on the release form, in 2012 it adjusted its procedures to allow for electronic signatures on the SSA-827. While progress has been slow, more SSA offices and their administrators should recognize digital signatures throughout the entire application process.